Politicians like to say they are listening to citizens and around the world participatory budgeting(PB) is shown to be an effective and meaningful way to do just that.
As we approach the 2015 election Jez Hall of the PB Partners has done a quick trawl of the parties websites and manifestos. Below is what he found. Not a particularly rich story of national politicians putting citizens first. If you know of examples of politicians supporting a move towards a more participatory democracy… we love to hear about it.
The Conservative Party manifesto seems to say little about local democracy, with its ‘big society’ focus instead being on transparency, volunteering, eliminating waste and reducing public spending. There is no mention of the phrase ‘local democracy’ at all, and most of the manifesto statements that refer to democracy seem to be around security, how an individual or family may benefit or promoting economic growth.
Labour doesn’t explicitly mention participatory budgeting in its manifesto either, but does say "Instead of imposing change on communities, we will give them more control over schools, health care, policing, skills, housing and transport, making use of their insights into what works and what does not. We will promote and encourage a model of citizenship based on participation and shared responsibility." It also says it will set up a form of citizen assembly to make recommendations on renewing democracy, a promise similar to one made by the Greens.
The Liberal Democrats have not yet published their full manifesto [see the update below], but an extensive search of the internet has failed to locate any LibDem ‘PB style’ policies or manifesto commitments, other than a broad statement in their 2014 pre-manifesto statement to "support devolution on demand, to transfer more power to local areas". We wait to see how this is expanded upon and whether that means giving power back to citizens over the state.
Similarly, whilst UKIP haven’t released a manifesto yet and according to media reports plan to leave it to late in the game [again see the update below], their website does list some of their recent policy statements. But none seem to support a more participatory or empowered local democracy or direct citizen participation in budget setting.
Nor is the Green Party very explicit on PB, though like Labour it does talk about a decentralisation of power, though this appears mainly about giving local councils greater powers, freedoms and funding. Yet this is reasonably hopeful; "We need to improve the way the UK is governed, passing power back to the people, back to where they live and work" (Page 59, Green Party Manifesto).
A number of local green party manifestos do mention participatory budgeting… as this extract shows the York Greens say they will "Develop participatory budgeting, using workshops and talks in local communities to enable residents’ engagement with the spending decisions that have to be made." (P5 of York Green party manifesto)
The SNP website doesn’t mention PB either using the search tool on its website. However though not directly linked to a party position there has been growing interest in PB in Scotland, with a number of statements of support from senior politicians. Mostly linked to the upcoming Community Empowerment (Scotland Bill), and there is also a dedicated webpage on the Communities Channel Scotland website
Plaid Cymru is a party that is explicitly backing Participatory Budgeting … as it says on its website: "We know that community involvement is vital to effective local government. We will make sure that voluntary groups, local businesses and individuals have every opportunity to share their views on decisions impacting their local community. We will support the campaign for participatory budgeting in our local authorities to ensure that local citizens have a voice in how money is spent. (from Local communities: Our vision)
And in its report "Commission on Sustainable Communities" Plaid Cymru advocates the use of participatory budgeting again.
"A good place to start is participatory budgeting. There have already been 20 participatory budget projects in Wales and the evaluations we have seen have shown positive outcomes… Successful participative democracy can also increase trust in traditional local democracy. We suggest Plaid members of county, town and community councils promote, and where possible put into action, participatory budgeting."
See page 10 of the report, which can be downloaded here
- As and when we hear more in the run up to the election, we will aim to update information on this page.
Update on the Liberal Democrat manifesto published on 15th April:
This didn’t go as far as might be hoped towards devolving powers directly to citizens. Despite a section on democratic renewal, participation in budget setting didn’t feature beyond a broad aspiration to devolve power, through statements such as "for freedom to be meaningful, people need the power not just to make decisions about their own lives, but about the way their country, their community, their workplace and more are run" . This didn’t turn into anything very concrete for creating a more participatory local democracy, the focus remaining on national issues. Perhaps to be expected within a general election manifesto.
Update on the UKIP manifesto also published on the 15th April.
Again no reference to increased participation in budget setting or a re-invigorated local democracy. Political reform was mainly linked to issues such as national referenda and proportional representation, and the section on local government had little on devolving powers, its policy thrust being shrinking the cost of the public sector, some Nimby-ist powers over planning decisions and weekly bin collection (a policy already promoted by the conservatives at length), further reducing regulation and on holding down council tax.